For Arielle Stevenson, being 19 has its pros and cons.
Pro: As one of the youngest volunteers at WMNF-FM 88.5, the USF-St. Pete journalism major will graduate with seven years of news reporting under her belt.
Pro: When she interviews Gov. Charlie Crist, he's more encouraging than intimidating.
Pro: She has the time and energy to host a 4 to 6 a.m. music show, Pre-Dawn Alternatives, Mondays on WMNF.
Con: She can't drink.
"I hate telling people my age," said the 2007 Largo High grad. "At the CNN/YouTube debates, I didn't tell anybody how old I was 'cause they had an amazing after-party."
On May 4, her 19th birthday, Stevenson received a news volunteer of the year award at a WMNF banquet.
At 14, Stevenson snuck into a conference at the Poynter Institute, the nonprofit journalism school that owns tbt*, and decided news was her calling. At 16, she pestered WMNF's assistant news director, Mitch Perry, for two months until Perry agreed to train her as a reporter.
"I absolutely had a bit of skepticism about somebody so young," said Perry, one of 12 paid staffers at the station, which relies on hundreds of volunteers on air and behind the scenes. "It was a matter of her kind of proving herself, which she has done enormously over the last couple of years and really grown a lot, and continues to do so."
This maturity, however, can make it difficult for Stevenson to relate to her peers. She prefers Portishead over P. Diddy and is more concerned about Darfur than dating.
"I had a boyfriend for a while, and he didn't get what I did," said Stevenson. "If you don't understand Tom Waits or Stevie Wonder, you're not really worth my time."
Besides volunteering 25 hours a week at WMNF, Stevenson juggles 15 credit hours, freelance music reviews for Creative Loafing and a 20-hours-a-week serving job at Casa Tina's in Dunedin. (She prefers working in Mexican restaurants so she can keep her Spanish up.)
On Sundays, between her restaurant and deejaying gigs, Stevenson naps from midnight to 2 a.m. in the Largo home she shares with her professional musician parents.
"I've always been totally, 100 percent behind it," Glenn Stevenson said of his daughter's graveyard-shift lifestyle. Still, he occasionally calls to check on her.
On a recent morning at WMNF's studio on East Martin Luther King Boulevard in Tampa, the younger Stevenson's cell phone rang at 3:50 a.m. "That's my dad," she said. "He worries because this isn't the best neighborhood." Later, she emerged from the studio at dawn to find her 1995 white Dodge Neon missing a hubcap.
After the show each Monday, Stevenson grabs breakfast at Nicko's Fine Foods, a greasy spoon on North Florida Avenue where she's such a regular that the waitress kisses her on the cheek and doesn't bother handing her a menu.
On the radio, though, Stevenson remains faceless — and ageless.
"That's one of the cool things about radio," she said. "They hear me on the radio, but they have no idea who I am."